WME is on the verge of acquiring sports agency IMG for between $2 and $2.5 billion, according to individuals with knowledge of the deal. Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, which owns a minority stake in the agency, will help finance the deal.
WME was one of three entities to submit final bids for IMG on Friday, and the sport giant’s owner Forstmann Little entered talks with WME and Silver Lake this week. IMG declined to comment on the state of of the sale while WME did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Forstmann Little bought IMG in 2003 for about $700 million, and has been looking to sell it for most of the year. If Forstmann Little’s board approves the deal, it would transform what is already one of Hollywood’s largest agencies.
The acquisition will bolster and diversify WME’s practice, as IMG represents professional athletes, stages athletic events across the globe and has a robust college sports marketing business.
The deal would extend WME’s competition with CAA into on-field talent representation. CAA founded its division for negotiating athlete’s on-the-field contracts in 2006, but in less than a decade has assembled one of the most impressive groups in the business.
WME has represented athletes off-the-field, but IMG represents the likes of Peyton Manning, Alexander Ovechkin and Venus Williams.
The final purchase price will still be shy of what IMG’s owner Forstmann Little was seeking, but no one was prepared to pay $2.5 or $3 billion for the company. A consortium led by European private equity firm CVC Partners and the duo of financial firm The Carlyle Group and talent shop ICM Partners both bid less than $2 billion, according to the individuals.
Those close to the bidding said all along that WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel was the most eager party bidding for IMG, and barring any major shift, he will walk away with his (expensive) prize.